A plea for help

Posted: Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This just in: Juneau residents don't like Alaska Electric Light & Power's proposed rate increase.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

They turned out in droves at Centennial Hall to testify before a Regulatory Commission of Alaska hearing on the company's proposal to boost bills 22 percent, and nearly unanimously opposed the increase.

"Most people can hardly afford their electric bill as it is," said Rudy Blaha, who said he was speaking on behalf of those on fixed income, working poor and middle class living from paycheck to paycheck.

AEL&P President Tim McLeod was a rare speaker in favor of the company's request.

He minimized the impact of the increase, saying that rates would still be among the lowest in Alaska and were only two-thirds what the company could have justified.

Rates will be "lower than Anchorage and significantly lower than those in Fairbanks," he said.

Ron Somerville disputed the comparison to cities in the Anchorage area that has access to natural gas for water heating.

"We don't have cheap natural gas, so I don't like us being compared to the Railbelt when it comes to electricity usage," he said.

While many of those testifying had delved deeply into lengthy AEL&P and RCA financial documents and disputed the company's justification for the increase, there was also heartfelt concern expressed for the cost of the increase on ratepayers and families facing tough times.

"We love Juneau, it's our home (but) it's so expensive, though," said Christy Montero, speaking through a sign language interpreter.

"We can't afford clothes for our kids. We can't afford so many things they need," she said.

She called the requested increase "asinine" following high costs the last two years due to avalanche that temporarily cut the city off form its hydro power. Her comments were about as harsh as the criticism got.

While the approximately 200 people who attended were critical of the company, the two RCA commissioners, T. W. Patch and Paul Lisankie, kept the well-behaved crowd moving along and only had to limit a couple of speakers. They came to Juneau for the hearing, requested by residents and the Juneau legislative delegation.

Frequently mentioned was the Lake Dorothy Hydroelectric Project and its cost overruns, as well as a cruise ship company and mine that will pay less for power than residents and businesses.

John Martin, Sr., asked why the city was told that Lake Dorothy would keep rates low, but then after it was built the community was told a rate increase was needed to pay for it.

He also questioned why Greens Creek Mine would pay less for power than homeowners.

"Is this just and reasonable?" he asked.

The RCA is charged with ensuring that electric rates are "just and reasonable."

Some increase would be OK, several people said, including Patrick Owen who suggested 5 or 6 percent.

"Any more is going to be a disaster for the community," he said.

Ray Cole said the increase would be a disaster for the Glory Hole soup kitchen and homeless shelter, which will face higher energy bills and likely fewer donations.

"It just seems wrong to me that AEL&P should take food out of the mouths of homeless people to pad their profits," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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